“Seconding The Motion” Solo exhibition at Shirota Gallery, 2008
JIMIN LEE: SECONDING THE MOTION
By Peter Frank
Over the past two years Jimin Lee has moved into higher gear. Her reputation established as a deft and sensitive portrayer of things – technically innovative and emotionally alert enough to endow such depictions with a poignant, gracefully articulated, nearly discursive resonance – Lee has now in effect dollied back her eye. Her working method now takes in a larger picture, a larger meaning, and, finally, a far more overtly dynamic context. The back stories that slyly inflected Lee’s objects have come to the fore; their potential for exposition has bloomed – but the exposition itself, quite deliberately, remains muted.
Lee’s photo-derived (but not photographic) prints have not become mere scenes from a story. They hardly fit together like frames of an illustrated novel; indeed, if they have maintained anything of their predecessors’ sense of meaning, it would be in their refusal to limn any sort of narration. They proffer us no coherent account. They toy with our desire to find or coax a narrative out of them, knocking our presumptions and expectations this way and that until we’re forced to accept their randomness.
But in that randomness lies their ultimate allure. They may resist our novelistic reading, but they maintain a sense of the picaresque. Indeed, the newer series of work, a set of six photogravures, seems unified in its context: a woman, presumably the artist, in a car. She goes here, she goes there. Clues accrue – we can be reasonably sure it’s the same person on the same ride throughout all half-dozen images (mostly through consistency of garb) and there are more factors that suggest that she is alone and (thus) the driver than there are suggesting that she is with someone (the camera angles betray a self-operated, time-delay set-up). It is apparently daytime. You surmise – that is, fill in – the rest.
In a group of larger, slightly earlier works, virtuosic blends of several print techniques, the visual field is even shallower, but the mystery is deeper and the imagery itself yet more subjective. These works issue directly from Lee’s previous still life pieces, but they are anything but still. They are unsettled and unsettling, avoiding our recognition one minute, pushing banal details in our faces the next. Like the photogravures, these images are strange in their ordinariness, but even stranger in their elusiveness. Whatever they capture is not ready for its close-up, but Lee closes in on it just the same. As opposed to the smaller prints, in which nothing is really happening except the fact of something happening, the larger pictures propose that something is happening even where and when nothing happens. Objects have their own life, or lives. Whole vistas open up in the space between your eyes and what your eyes see. Everything is not only illuminated, but animated, suffused with an existential vitality.
Writing on the occasion of Lee’s exhibition in Australia, Sasha Gushin found in her earlier work “both a physical and a spiritual presence” of the kind postulated by (among others) the Theosophists. In fact, Lee’s work exhibits such a dual sense of presence in particular by locating the perceptual midpoint, physically and spiritually, between viewer and viewed. Clearly, the things Lee sees – and literally or by implication the things she does – provide the material for her prints. But how and why she sees them are not so clear, and shouldn’t be. Lee has become increasingly concerned with how and why we see what she sees, intrigued with the relationship – the hermeneutic, you could say – between herself, us, and the artwork – the artwork as a thing unto itself and as a bearer of something else, of other things, other likelihoods and unlikelihoods. Things and pictures both have lives of their own; and in Jimin Lee’s vibrant grasp of the world, these lives intersect with but do not entrap one another.